Luck says Big East must find 'right' teams
Whatever topics are on the agenda at the Big East Conference annual meetings in Florida next week, the overriding issue will be football expansion.
It's bigger than simply a Villanova matter. Football expansion, however it is accomplished, will be the driving force in the Big East's desire to renegotiate its television contract.
The whys and wheres of fitting TCU into conference football and basketball schedules in 2012-13 and beyond? That's going to be part of the discussions, but it's small potatoes compared to the Big East's need to join the other big leagues with much bigger bucks in its next TV deal.
In a recent conversation with West Virginia Athletic Director Oliver Luck, I brought up the Villanova issue and the conference football schools holding off the Wildcats' desire to become the Big East's 10th pigskin player.
Luck wouldn't go there ... maybe because he went there publicly, candidly (and not briefly) on the air last month, after Big East Commissioner John Marinatto had issued a gag order of sorts on members discussing that particular piece of the expansion puzzle.
Luck's law degree and business background in pro sports before he took the WVU athletic reins serve him very well in these matters. And in detouring around the Villanova pothole - "I have to defer to the conference there," he said - Luck found a route he'd like to see the Big East travel.
His reference point was the recent $3 billion, 12-year telecast contract the Pac-10 (to be the Pac-12 on July 1) landed from the unexpected rights marriage of ESPN and Fox. The deal will provide about $21 million on average annually to member schools.
"One of the things I really found interesting, if you followed the Pac-10 or 12 and the recent TV negotiation - and what happened was pretty eye-opening, pretty spectacular - was something (Commissioner) Larry Scott was asked," Luck said.
"When he was asked if bringing in Utah and Colorado in expanding the conference assisted them in getting a blockbuster deal, he said, 'Absolutely.' I remember back when (expansion) happened, some people said it wouldn't matter that much.
"But Larry said it brought them into another time zone (Mountain), added markets, two states. He thought adding those two schools had a major effect on what they were able to do."
Last June, as the Pac-10 was moving on the Utes and Buffaloes, one Chicago marketing firm that works with college athletic programs was estimating that the two schools would add to the Pac-10 potential, but not significantly to a conference that already had Los Angeles, San Francisco, Phoenix, Seattle and Portland, Ore.
One estimate was $14.5 million per school in the new deal. The Pac-10 members will go that figure $6.3 million better, starting this football season through 2022-23 (and creating its own Pac-12 network, too, holding back 36 football games for telecast there, for starters).
"What happened there struck a chord with me," Luck said. "There's a lesson in that for us in the Big East. What's the lesson? Well, if you do get the right teams, the right schools, it can be a real plus. It can provide a real bump, and we need that.
"I'm not saying Villanova is that or isn't that, or can be that. I don't know. That's up to the commissioner and other people in the conference office to decide in talking with the TV people. But it does tell us what might be possible if you do get the right teams."
LUCK HAS stated repeatedly that he thinks the Big East will get to 10 football members sooner than later.
As for a potential expansion to 12 football members (and thereby a possible 19 or 20 basketball schools, depending on which side of the equation includes Villanova), Luck is like most of his peers as a "right fit, provide revenue" proponent.
One thing the West Virginia AD does not see occurring anytime soon? That would be secession by the football members to create their own conference, or one that would also bring in one or two valued hoops members.
"The football side would be a really good basketball league in its own right, but I don't see the Big East splitting apart," Luck said. "I sincerely believe the basketball league is easily the best in the country, and I'll argue that until I'm blue in the face.
"I think the football schools certainly can recognize the value the basketball schools bring, and I think the basketball schools in their own way really value what the football members bring to the conference."
Luck said that after the Big East had an NCAA men's basketball champion in ninth conference seed Connecticut and received a record 11 bids into the NCAA field, football should pull more of its own weight as fortunes should improve after 2010.
"Last season may have been the low point for the conference," he said. "I think it really hit bottom, and that's not good."
The Big East had no teams ranked in the final football polls, was 0-6 against ranked opponents and had a 6-14 record against fellow BCS league opponents. Luck pointed to coaching changes (six of eight schools since entering 2009, with another coming at WVU after this season), and TCU's pending arrival.
"Is it a challenge to hold (the conference) together for the commissioner? Maybe," Luck said, "but I don't sense any desire on the part of anybody to head off in their own direction, I really don't.
"I've been on the job here almost a year now and honestly, I haven't had football school ADs or basketball ADs call me privately and say we'd like to have you consider leaving the conference, or anything like that.
"I don't see (a Big East fracture) happening in the short or even the midterm. Long term, who knows? But I'm pretty confident everybody realizes the value we have in us as a group. I don't see that changing."
Contact Sports Editor Jack Bogaczyk at email@example.com or 304-348-7949.